Program Summary

Even today, decades after his death, Richard Nixon inspires divided passions in America. Nixon was a self-made man who rose from modest Quaker beginnings in California to the most powerful office in the world. His story is filled with unlikely successes -- a staunch anti-communist, he improved U.S.-Soviet relations, and surprised the world by opening up relations with Communist China. Some credit him with ending the war in Vietnam. But Nixon's career was ultimately undone by his own actions. He abused the power of the office, resigned in humiliation, and tainted the presidency in the process. Admired and reviled, loved and hated, the man and his life continue to fascinate us.

Program Chapters: The entire program is streaming on the PBS and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE websites. The total viewing time is three hours. For your convenience, we have described the program in chapters. You may want to use specific chapters to focus classroom discussion and activities.

Chapter 1 -- Introduction 

Nixon characterized as a man of contradictions -- self-conscious yet a tireless campaigner -- a crusader against communism who made history by reaching out to Russia and China

Part One: The Quest

Chapter 2 -- Growing up in Yorba Linda

Nixon born in Yorba Linda, California in 1913 -- grew up among those he would later call the "silent majority" -- mother a Quaker -- father a political enthusiast -- two of Nixon's brothers died of tuberculosis -- at Whittier College, Nixon elected president of the student council, yet was rejected by the exclusive Franklin social club

"The Important thing is To Win"

Chapter 3 -- Early Political Career

Nixon attends Duke Law School -- his applications to the FBI and East Coast law firms are rejected -- Nixon marries Patricia Ryan in 1940 -- serves in Navy during World War II -- uses poker earnings to finance his first political campaign -- challenges Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis in 1947 -- campaign establishes the strategy Nixon continues to use throughout his career -- he portrays himself as a family man, committed to hard work, service, and strident anti-communism -- Nixon wins 60 percent of the vote in the race against Voorhis

Chapter 4 -- The Concealed Enemy

GOP controls both houses of Congress for the first time in 20 years -- anti-communism popular -- Nixon a junior member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (led by Joseph McCarthy) -- Nixon becomes a national figure during the Alger Hiss investigation in 1948 -- denounced by liberals but supported by conservatives

"The Pink Lady"

Chapter 5 -- Senate Race, 1950

Nixon runs for Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas, a wealthy, well-educated New Dealer -- Nixon portrays her as soft on communism ("pink down to her underwear") -- she dubs him "Tricky Dick" -- Nixon wins election but leaves his opponents bitter

Chapter 6 -- A Nixon Republican

Nixon nominated as Eisenhower's vice president -- in reaction to financial scandal, Nixon delivers "Checkers" speech on television and remains on the ticket

Chapter 7 -- Eisenhower's Point Man

Eisenhower's 1955 heart attack gives Nixon the opportunity to be a cautious, respectful "stand-in" president for two months -- Ike considers dropping Nixon from the 1956 ticket but does not -- Eisenhower and Nixon win reelection

Chapter 8 -- The Bronze Warrior

Nixon's motorcade is attacked in South Africa -- argues with Khruschev -- Nixon/Kennedy debates broadcast on radio and TV -- radio listeners feel Nixon won but television audiences disagree -- press loves JFK -- Nixon loses the election by the closest margin in history --vows never to be "caught short" again

Chapter 9 -- Oblivion

Nixon runs for governor of California in 1962 but loses -- tells press they "won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" -- "Time" magazine predicts in 1962 that Nixon's career is over

Part Two: Triumph

Chapter 10 -- Triumph

Nixon joins Wall Street law firm -- JFK assassinated -- Nixon travels around the world as a private citizen, announces candidacy for president in 1968 and wins the election against incumbent vice president Hubert Humphrey

Chapter 11 -- Peacemaker 

Nixon's goal is to be a great peacemaker -- works closely with Henry Kissinger -- Nixon initiates secret talks with North Vietnamese -- plans to withdraw American troops and replace them with South Vietnamese -- in 1969 states that the Cold War should be a thing of the past --Russian summit -- communication with Communist China -- first American troops withdraw from Vietnam -- arms control talks begin

Chapter 12 -- Mr. Nixon's War

Nixon seeks an "honorable end to war," but Vietnam becomes "Nixon's war" when troops aren't withdrawn right away -- anti-war demonstrations staged across the country -- Nixon refuses to let public opinion determine foreign policy -- asks "the great silent majority" to support him -- announces an attack on an enemy sanctuary in Cambodia -- staff members resign in protest 

Chapter 13 -- Anti-War Protests 

National Guard opens fire on demonstrating students at Kent State and Jackson State -- Nixon characterizes protesters as "bums" and the rest of Americans as "heroes" -- becomes increasingly suspicious of his advisors -- employs taping machines in his own office

Chapter 14 -- Enemies  

Tricia Nixon marries Edward Cox at the White House -- "Pentagon Papers" published the next day -- Nixon's aides compile an "enemies list" with the goal of "screwing political enemies" -- Nixon authorizes break-in to steal documents from Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office -- reelection becomes Nixon's consuming goal -- inflation and racial tensions run high -- Nixon's popularity ratings are so low he fears he will not even win Republican nomination

"To the Summit"

Chapter 15 -- Nixon's Diplomatic Trip to China

In 1972 Nixon becomes the first president to visit China -- North Vietnamese undertake a massive offensive -- Nixon orders sustained bombing of Hanoi -- becomes the first president to set foot inside the Kremlin -- negotiates a treaty between the two superpowers to slow down the arms race -- two days later the Watergate break-in occurs -- Nixon's second term seems confirmed after his foreign policy successes

Part Three: The Fall

Chapter 16 -- The Fall

Nixon denies involvement in Watergate -- orders Haldeman to divert the FBI by blaming the CIA -- becomes personally involved in the cover-up -- Nixon nominated for reelection -- wins overwhelmingly against George McGovern -- against advice of his aides Nixon orders the "Christmas bombing" -- two weeks later Paris peace talks resume, and Hanoi signs an agreement effectively ending US participation in Vietnam War -- cease-fire takes effect in 1973

Chapter 17 -- Secrets Unraveled 

Watergate burglary trial set to begin -- Dorothy Hunt dies in a plane crash -- $10,000 in "hush money" found in her purse -- former Attorney General John Mitchell and others lie to protect the president -- John Dean withholds evidence, coaches witnesses and monitors the FBI investigation -- Dean assumes responsibility for cover-up, then fearing he will become the scapegoat, reveals that Liddy and Haldeman were involved in Ellsberg break-in -- Nixon fires Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean in an effort to distance himself from the scandal

"I am Not a Crook"

Chapter 18 -- The Testimony of John Dean

Senator Sam Ervin, chairman of the Watergate Committee, begins investigations into the break-in via televised hearings --witnesses implicate officials high within Nixon's administration -- Dean implicates Nixon -- Nixon refuses, even when subpoenaed, to provide the Watergate Committee with tapes -- Attorney General Elliott Richardson appoints Archibald Cox as an independent special prosecutor to investigate the Nixon White House

Chapter 19 -- Constitutional Crisis

In 1973 Vice President Spiro Agnew is investigated for bribery, tax evasion, and extortion -- Agnew pleads "no contest" and resigns -- Gerald R. Ford becomes vice president -- a court of appeals rules that Nixon must surrender the tapes -- Nixon orders Richardson to fire Cox -- Richardson refuses and quits -- Nixon orders Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelhaus to fire Cox -- Ruckelhaus is fired when he refuses to fire Cox (known as the "Saturday Night Massacre") -- 21 resolutions calling for Nixon's impeachment are introduced on Capitol Hill -- in a televised speech, Nixon claims, "I am not a crook"

"The Last Campaign"

Chapter 20 -- Impeachment

Nixon begins a campaign to rebuild his image but fails -- House Judiciary Committee demands the rest of the tapes -- Nixon releases edited transcripts -- Nixon brings the case to the Supreme Court -- Judiciary Committee votes affirmatively on three articles of impeachment -- Supreme Court rules that Nixon must surrender the tapes

Chapter 21 -- The Judgement of History

Nixon resigns the presidency on August 8, 1974 -- Gerald Ford becomes president -- Ford grants Nixon a full pardon in September 1974

Chapter 22 -- Credits

To find more film resources and classroom activities, visit the Teacher's Guide for Nixon.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH